Is it Safe to Eat an Egg with a Small Crack in the Shell?

Whether the egg has a tiny or a huge crack in the shell, you might be wondering if you can still eat it. Here's what a dietitian has to say.

Eggs are an ever-popular grocery item. They cook quickly, can be used in everything from breakfast to baked goods and they're high in protein, with 6 grams per one large egg. We all know to lift the lid when choosing a carton at the store to check for broken eggs. But what if the egg is still intact with a small crack in the shell? Is it still safe to eat? Or, should you follow the rule, "when in doubt, throw it out?" Let's find out.

Is it safe to eat an egg with a crack in the shell?

From an anatomical standpoint, birds pass their eggs and feces from the same location. (Gross, but true!) That means the chances of food-borne pathogens like Salmonella sticking to eggshells are high. If the shell has a crack in it, the door is wide open for bacteria to seep in. For that reason, the CDC recommends avoiding eggs with cracked shells.

Okay, but what if the egg is cracked but not oozing?

A cracked egg without oozing does not mean it is safe to eat. Bacteria like Salmonella can penetrate through the cracked shell even if the contents of the egg are still inside.

What if an egg cracks on my way home from the store? Is it fresh enough to still cook and eat?

Eggs are delicate and sometimes the cardboard carton may not protect them from all the bumps and bruises they're faced with on the trip home from the store. If your eggs were intact at the store, but you notice a new crack in the shell, the USDA suggests they might be okay to eat—if you move quickly. Remove the egg them from the shell, place them in a container and use within two days. Alternatively, you can freeze the eggs by beating them and storing them in a freezer-safe container for up to 12 months.

What are the risks of eating a damaged egg?

According to the CDC, you may experience unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, ranging from 4 to 7 days, when contaminated foods (including eggs) are consumed. However, children younger than five years old, adults older than 65 and people with a weakened immune system may be at a greater risk of hospitalization and death due to food poisoning.

an egg with a small cracked shell
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How to avoid cracked eggshells

To ensure they leave the producers' facilities free of cracks and to classify them according to their grading, eggs go through the process of candling, where individuals evaluate the egg by placing it under a light to detect defects. While this catches cracked eggs, the accuracy is low, as the naked eye cannot see micro-cracks. Researchers are still developing technology to detect cracks more efficiently. As a shopper, your best option is to look at the eggs before you buy them and avoid eggs with obvious cracks, oozing or eggs stuck to the carton.

Keep eggs safe once purchased by storing them on top of other items in your grocery bag. And once in the car, make sure the bag they're in isn't at risk of toppling over on the drive home.

How to tell if eggs are bad

How exactly can you tell when an egg has gone bad? A good egg is intact, has a strong eggshell, a firm yolk and a runny and slightly thick egg white. And perhaps most obviously, it should be odorless. Since eggshells are porous, air can penetrate through the shell. The older the egg, the more air has penetrated the shell, making older eggs more likely to float in water. That being said, an older egg may still be safe to eat as long as it has a runny and clear white, a firm yolk and a neutral odor. Eggs that are spoiled have a strong sulfur smell and should be avoided.

How to store eggs

Uncracked eggs can be stored up to 3 to 5 weeks from the date of purchase, as per the consumers' Foodkeeper App, as long as they are kept in the fridge at 40°F or below. Keeping them in their original cartoon helps prevent damage. Keep eggs away from foods with a strong odor as smells can seep through the shell. The placement of eggs in the fridge also matters. Keeping eggs on the inner shelves instead of the door can minimize the eggs from moving around and cracking.

Bottom line

Eating cracked eggs may pose more risks than benefits. To ensure your eggs are intact and damage-free, check their physical appearance before leaving the grocery store. Handling the egg carton with care during transportation and storing them properly at home will minimize the chances of eggs getting cracked and going bad.

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